Cookin' Kuchen: Naming a German Pastry the State Dessert Adds Spice
to Life in McPherson County
Guthmiller, Trevor T. "Cookin’ Kuchen: Naming a German Pastry the State Dessert Adds Spice to Life in McPherson County." South Dakota Magazine, February 2004, 58-61.
|Carol Spitzer and her husband, Jeff,
operate the Eureka Bakery, the oldest kuchen producer in town.
Today they sell 25 varieties.
Supporters called it a sweet victory in the spring of 2000 when
the bill to designate kuchen South Dakota's official dessert passed
the state legislature. Not that is was an easy victory; the bill
had failed during the previous legislative session. But it was fought
with the same quiet determination that typifies the people who today
use the designation to create economic development in their communities.
Kuchen (kü-kin) is a traditional German pastry that roughly
translates to “cake”. Typically, kuchen is made from
a sweet dough and contains a fruit or custard filling. There are
about as many different recipes and styles of kuchen as there are
people who make it.
Dawn Quenzer or Eureka has turned kuchen into a business. Quenzer
makes Grandma’s Kuchen by hand and sells it at her store on
Highway 10. “People who come into the store often ask me if
I make the kuchen, and I tell them I do,” she said. “Then
they say ‘you don’t look like a grandma.’ I tell
them that just because I’m under 40 doesn’t mean I can’t
German immigrants brought kuchen to South Dakota in the 1880s.
Homesteaders often brought very little with them besides their clothes,
basic tools, self- sufficiency and a determination to face the challenges
that a rough and unsettled South Dakota threw at them. Many of them
settled in McPherson County in north central South Dakota, in towns
like Leola, Eureka, Wetonka, Long Lake, and Hillsview.
came directly from Germany, others most recently from Russia. Their
hard work and agricultural prowess turned McPherson County into
one of the largest wheat- producing areas in the country. In fact,
in the late 1890s Eureka billed itself as the “Wheat Capital
of the United States.” In 1892, 3,300 railroad cars or wheat
were hauled out of Eureka. This was a remarkable achievement in
an era before the internal combustion engine, when the horsepower
that grew and harvested crops was still provided by horses, oxen
German was the first language for many county residents until the
past two generations. Even people born in the 1960s and 70s remember
their parents and grandparents speaking German when they didn’t
want their children to know what they were talking about.
As farms were settled, towns and businesses developed around them.
But what later happened across South Dakota happened in McPherson
County too; rather than migrating in, people migrated out. Farms
grew larger, towns grew smaller, and agriculture struggled. The
8,774 people living in McPherson County in 1930 fell to 5,821 in
1960, to 4,027 in 1980, and to 2,782 in 1997.
The number of farms declined accordingly. The 552 farms in McPherson
County in 1978 fell to 397 just 20 years later. Implement dealers,
grain elevators, car dealers and hardware stores closed their doors
as people left for greener pastures in urban places. Some towns,
including Eureka and Leola, having hung on, but others are now little
more than ghost towns.
One would think the mood in shrinking towns might be sad and depressed,
but like their immigrant ancestors, people who remain are focused
on positive aspects of rural life and opportunities for the future.
Which brings us back to kuchen, and the new businesses created to
fill the growing demand for the state’s official dessert.
To understand why kuchen is such a staple in McPherson County,
you must understand the heritage of the people who live there. In
1990, 2,758 residents listed their primary ancestry as German. The
next largest group was 146 people who claimed Norwegian origin.
Eureka holds a Schmeckfest every fall, and Leola celebrates Rhubarb
Day every other July, and kuchen is prominently featured in those
events. There aren’t many lutefisk feeds in this part of the
state; it’s a kuchen- eatin’ crowd if there ever was
Dawn Quenzer has tapped the market. She started making Grandma’s
Kuchen in September 2001. Her grandmother, an excellent baker, passed
away in 1997. Quenzer thought about the possibilities, then went
into business. Besides working on the family farm and providing
home health care as a registered nurse in Eureka, she started selling
kuchen. Instead of just producing commodities on the farms, she
uses farm commodities - wheat flour, eggs, cream, sugar and fruit,
and turns them into a delicious dessert that is sold across the
state and the country.
Prairie Treasures/ Grandma’s
708 J Avenue
Eureka, SD 57437
Eureka Kuchen Factory
1407 J Avenue
Eureka, SD 57437
PO Box 651
Eureka, SD 57437
Quenzer is not alone. Besides Grandma’s Kuchen, the Eureka
Bakery and the Eureka Kuchen Factory also supply the traditional
dessert to locals, to stores and even to customers in other states.
Grandma’s Kuchen is sold through Quenzer’s Prairie Treasures
in Eureka as well as through area grocery stores as Ken’s
Fairway in Aberdeen. The company also ships kuchen by mail. “Often,
hunters will come through in the fall and order some to be sent
back to their homes,” Quenzer said. Like the other businesses,
Quenzer ships kuchen only in fall and winter when the weather is
cool. Christmas is a big time for mail order sales. “Last
years, on one day about a week before Christmas, we shipped out
65 kuchen that went all over the country, from coast to coast,”
Of the many kinds of kuchen Quenzer sells, strawberry is most popular,
but locals often go for more traditional variations, such as rhubarb,
peach and prune. Quenzer’s store also sells other handmade
and South Dakota products from a house that she says “looks
like a place where your grandmother would live.”
Like Grandma’s Kuchen, the Eureka Kuchen Factory opened in
2001. That business, operated by Maria Luz Alandy and Hulda Opp,
now employs six people producing 20 varieties of kuchen, from rhubarb,
sugar and prune to the more exotic pecan and peanut butter. A best
seller is their four-inch personal kuchen. They market sweets through
their shops in Eureka and through grocery and convenience stores
across South Dakota, including HyVee stores in Sioux Falls and Dakotamarts
in Pierre and Sturgis. Besides kuchen, the business sells other
German foods, such as plachendas, cheese buttons and strudels. The
Eureka Kuchen Factory also sells via mail order and through its
The oldest kuchen producer in town is the Eureka Bakery, operated
by Jeff and Carol Spitzer. Like the others, they sell at their store,
fill mail orders and market through grocery and convenience stores
in the region, generally delivering their product directly. The
Spitzers lobbies the state legislature for the dessert bill. “The
Eureka Development Corporation led the effort,” said Carol
Spitzer, “and we tried to help them all we could. We donated
a lot of kuchen that was taken to Pierre to give to legislators
to sample. We also took some to legislative cracker barrel meetings
to help the cause.” The Eureka Bakery, whose sign reminds
people that the German pastry is the state’s official dessert,
now produces 25 varieties.
“We get a lot of people who are passing through and stop
at our store, who have never heard of kuchen,” Dawn Quenzer
said. “We give them a sample and we gain a lot of customers
that way.” Quenzer thinks her Grandma’s Kuchen business
will continue to grow. Besides delivering her sweets to the state
Capitol during the legislative session, she has sold kuchen by the
slice at the Sidewalk Arts Festival in Sioux Falls.
Kuchen is not limited to McPherson County. Delmont has a Kuchen
Festival every October, and bakeries in many small towns eat the
treat. Legislators considering the kuchen resolution received letters
from the 18 town councils around the state. On February 9, 2000,
the bill designating kuchen the state dessert passed the house of
representatives 39 to 24. Six days later it passed the senate 19
to 11, and was signed into law March 14.
Some scoffed at the kuchen bill, others found it humorous. But
a new industry has taken hold in north central South Dakota, adding
new life to a rural community. And the entrepreneurial spirit of
people like Dawn Quenzer has introduced more people to the joy of
eating the state’s official dessert.
Those who’d like to try kuchen can ask whether their local
bakery produces it or a grocery store carries it, they can make
their own, or they can contact a kuchen maker in Eureka. You don’t
have to be German to appreciate kuchen, official state dessert or
About the author - Trevor Guthmiller, a native of Leola, lives
in Brandon with his wife Melissa and their children Adam and Ashley.
Clean Your Plates for Kuchen
By Trevor T. Guthmiller
Growing up in Leola was someting we always
looked forward to - if we cleaned our plates. Since my mother
and grandmother are great cooks, this was never a problem.
Like many family recipes, the one for kuchen has been handed
down and around our family for years. My grandmother's sister,
Edna Neuharth, shared it with my grandmother, Adeline Ehley,
who handed it on to my other, Leta Guthmiller.
A great thing about kuchen is that it comes
in so many styles and flavors. While this is good, it sometimes
led to divisions at the dinner table. Adlts preferred rhubarb
and prune kuchen, while children favored apple, peach or
strawberry. To get around this, my mother often made a sugar
kuchen, which she knew everyone would like. Her recipe is
felxible enough to make kuchen with or without fruit.
When cooks made kuchen to feed men working
in the field, they didn't make just one; they made several,
and extras to freeze. Great-aunt Edna's original recipe
makes about eight kuchen. To make fewer, adjust the ingredients.
Or make eight, some plain and with fruit.
|Aunt Edna’s Kuchen
(makes eight kuchen)
1 package dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cups flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add
milk, sugar, salt, eggs and vegetable oil. Mix in
flour and make into dough. Let rise about one hour.
Knead down and let rise again for another hour.
Divide the dough into eight equal pieces. Roll each
to about 1/4 inch thick and place in a greased pie
pan so that the dough covers the bottom and comes
up about halfway up the side. Let dough rise in
the pan for 15 minutes. Add a layer of thin-sliced
apples, strawberries or other fruit if desired.
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk
3 tbsp flour
On the stove, heat the milk and cream together.
In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour and eggs together.
Add the milk and cream mixture to the sugar, flour
and eggs and return it to the stove and cook until
it thickens. Pour about 3/4 of a cup of the filling
mixture into each crust.
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup margarine
Mix the sugar, flour and margarine together so that
it is somewhere between smooth and lumpy. Pour the
topping on and bake it in the oven for about 30
minuets at 350 degrees. After the kuchen comes out
of the oven, let it set for five minuets, then remove
from the pan and let cool.
Reprinted with permission of South Dakota Magazine.